New program makes it easier to be green

New program makes it easier to be green

Religious leaders at forefront of environmental movement

"There is no other program of its kind in the country; that’s why we started it," said Rabbi Larry Troster, director of the newly created GreenFaith Fellowship Program, explaining the need for the initiative.

While the program — which Troster calls "the first comprehensive education and training program in the U.S. to prepare lay and ordained leaders from diverse religious traditions for religiously based environmental leadership" — will formally begin in September, some 80 applications have already been received.

Participants at GreenFaith’s May retreat take a break during a hike through Bear Mountain State Park, just across the Hudson River from the Garrison Institute. The event was led Rabbi Lawrence Troster and Kurt Hoelting.

According to Troster, a resident of Teaneck and a nationally recognized religious environmental leader, although it is vital that clergy be engaged in environmental issues, there are at present no regular environmental training programs for religious leaders. The new program, he said, will supplement the education of clergy, helping them gain the skills and knowledge they need to make an impact as environmental leaders.

While the program is primarily targeted to clergy — in particular, to those already out in the field, he said — it will also accept laypeople and academics who are particularly active in their religious community.

The fellowship director said he wants participants to become "personally transformed… moved by a connection to the sacred [and] educated on both a personal and professional basis." The goal of the venture, he said, is to create a cadre of well-educated environment activists who will go back to their communities and initiate projects that will transform those communities.

"GreenFaith is guided by the key words spirit, justice, and stewardship," said Troster, stressing that most religious groups are based on similar values, which support environmental responsibility. Religious leaders "can be powerful engines of change," he added, noting that most important movements have started in religious communities.

Still, according to Troster, the greatest lack in the movement today is a sufficient number of trained leaders.

"We want [our fellows] to become spokespersons for the religious environmental movement, to be well educated and speak in an articulate and deep way about these issues," he said. "Many religious leaders are interested and have good intentions," he added, "but they don’t have the knowledge or background."

Troster himself has worked with the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), the Jewish Theological Seminary, as a Steinhardt Fellow at the Center for Life and Learning (CLAL), and as a congregational rabbi in Toronto and New Jersey. He has published and lectured widely on theology and environmentalism and has led GreenFaith’s "Meeting the Sacred in Creation" retreats for religious leaders.

The first fellowship class will run through the spring of ‘009, and fellows will be selected through a competitive application process. Troster said he hopes to begin with a group of 15 students. The applications already received have come from Jews of various religious streams as well as from different Christian groups, he said.

"We are striving for a diverse group," he noted, "religiously, geographically, and ethnically." Troster said the program is actively seeking the participation of minority communities, which, he said, have not been involved as deeply as they should have been. He pointed out that poor and minority communities are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution both in the U.S. and around the world.

The program will consist of three four-day retreats and will be held in what organizers call "ecologically varied settings" (one urban, one rural, and one suburban). The fellowship initiative will include conference calls, mentoring sessions, an e-mail listserve, networking, and substantial reading and writing assignments. To help facilitate implementation of participants’ own ideas for community projects, GreenFaith will provide each fellow with a grant of $1,000.

The first retreat will be held in October at the Garrison Institute in New York’s Hudson Valley. The gathering — which will focus on worship, spirituality, sacred texts, and the environment — will be led by Troster, GreenFaith executive director Fletcher Harper, and Kurt Hoelting, who has led previous wilderness retreats for clergy.

The second retreat, planned for the spring, will be held in conjunction with West Harlem Environment Action, and will focus on environmental justice. As part of that gathering, participants will learn how to engage in advocacy, a function that GreenFaith itself has undertaken on issues such as diesel emissions in New Jersey. A third retreat will deal with sustainable consumption.

Troster said that GreenFaith — an interfaith group founded in New Jersey in 199′ in the aftermath of the Rio Summit, and originally known as the Partnership for Environmental Quality — held successful retreats last year, attracting participants from all over the country, as well as from England. Now, he said, the group "is looking to develop a national profile." He pointed out that the organization is already starting to expand beyond New Jersey and was recently featured in a documentary aired on the Sundance Channel.

The GreenFaith Fellowship Program will begin on Sept. 1, and applications will be accepted until Aug. 1. Initial funding has been provided by the Richard Oram Charitable Trust and the Kendeda Sustainability Fund. For more information or to apply, send an e-mail to Rabbi Troster at

 or call 73′-565-7740.

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